Malta Youth in Agriculture (MaYA) has expressed its dismay at Infrastructure Malta’s plans to sacrifice 20 tumoli of irrigated land in Imrieħel. In a statement, the farming NGO stated its concern about the project as well as the wider ramifications of giving up agricultural land for the sake of further roadbuilding, a trend which has already cost the country huge swathes of arable land and open spaces. Safeguarding agricultural land should not come at a cost to road safety, however, the NGO is positive that alternative solutions may be found when all stakeholders are consulted.
The NGO welcomed the interventions of political grandees such as former President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca and MEP Dr Alfred Sant who both expressed their concern at the intention to build new road junctures instead of arable land, noting that this latest development piles further misery onto the farming sector in Malta.
“This case brings to the fore the various issues already faced by farmers when it comes to land use. Farmers are constantly under threat, because projects such as these may throw them out of a livelihood at any time. In addition to this, we are yet to see the repercussions of a recent constitutional case related to the lease of agricultural land, an issue which has been neglected by subsequent administrations and which will cause further damage to the sector.”
Whilst welcoming initiatives such as those related to urban embellishment, the NGO said that this alone is not enough to protect Malta’s green spaces, particularly considering the persistent dangers looming over these areas from various quarters including development and roadbuilding.
Quoting statistics from the European Environment Agency, MaYA said agriculture remains the primary land user in Malta (51%), and due to the lack of forests (only 0.7%), it also represents the only green lung left on the islands. Malta is also the most densely populated Member State in the EU with 22% of its area classified as urban area. “The number of dwellings approved in ODZ areas has increased over the past years, meaning that a sealed (built) area will never be returned to its original state.”
Whilst the general public may have become more sensitive to the importance of open spaces for their recreational value, awareness needs to be raised about food security, the livelihoods of rural communities and the conservation of rural traditions, all of which are widely acknowledged by the European Union in its reports.
MaYA also sounded out a warning about the potential impact of EU funds dedicated to agriculture, saying that these funds hinged on a clear government strategy and the approval of Rural Development Plans. “European funds allocated to Malta – which has been classified as a Less Favoured Area (LFA) – may be affected due to the uptake of agricultural land by various forms of development. Against this background, and in the context of continuous threats to our rural areas, we should focus our efforts on preserving the agricultural status of such limited land”.
The NGO called on government to introduce a no-tolerance approach on the further loss of agricultural land, which jeopardise directly the livelihoods of farmers, local food supply, open spaces and also EU funding, noting that massive projects such as Central Link and the Magħtab incinerator involve the takeup of vast areas of arable land.
MaYA also believes that rural and urban planning should go beyond the 5-year mandate of a political party, and that a long term vision is needed to “make good use of EU funding whilst allowing farmers to maintain a crucial role in the landscape and territorial management.”